Students uncover hidden stories at the Maison Dieu

UKC students and Minet painting

Students are exploring the hidden story of the Minet children, descendants of Huguenot refugees who fled to Dover to escape religious persecution in France

Graphic design students from the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Kent are to create exhibition designs inspired by the hidden stories of the 800-year-old Maison Dieu, including those of under-represented audiences including women, children, and people from diverse backgrounds.

Over 20 students donned hard hats to explore the Maison Dieu (Dover Town Hall) on 23 February to research and celebrate the Grade I Listed building which is currently being restored in a £10.5m project with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Wolfson Foundation.

Among the stories the students are exploring is the struggle for women’s suffrage in Dover; an 18th century portrait of the children of Hughes Minet, descendants of Huguenot refugees; the story of the Dover Victualling Yard, that supplied ships’ biscuits, salt beef and beer for the Royal Navy; the teenage prisoners of Dover’s Victorian Gaol; and the decorative scheme of neo-Gothic architect and designer, William Burges.

The brief is for the students to create a series of multi-sensory narrative-led exhibits to appeal to a target audience of 16- to 25-year-olds.

It is planned to host a physical or online exhibition of the finished designs later this year, and to include some of the ideas in future interpretation for the building, as part of future events, and on the Maison Dieu website.

Becky Upson, Lecturer in Graphic Design at the Kent School of Architecture and Planning said: “Live client briefs are an essential element in graphic design education at the University of Kent in which future employability is a key focus. We value projects like these that enable our students to have hands-on experience, communicate with clients and see their design outcomes used in real life.”

Notes to editors:

About the Reawakening the Maison Dieu Project

The £10.5m reawakening of the Grade I Listed Maison Dieu sees the restoration of internationally significant decorative schemes by the renowned Victorian neo-Gothic architect, William Burges, and a new street-level visitor entrance to the Connaught Hall, along with improved access throughout the building.

The project creates a sustainable future for the Maison Dieu by bringing redundant spaces back into commercial use, including restoring the Mayor’s Parlour as a holiday let in conjunction with The Landmark Trust, and a unique new café in the space once occupied by Victorian gaol cells.

Once complete in 2024, the Maison Dieu will be permanently open to the public for the first time in its 800-year history and contributing to the creation of a heritage quarter in Dover town centre.

Project funders/partners include the National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Wolfson Foundation, The Landmark Trust, Dover Town Council, and the Dover Society.

History of the Maison Dieu

The Maison Dieu (House of God) was founded in the early 1200’s by Hubert de Burgh and passed to King Henry III in 1227, when the earliest surviving part of the building, the Chapel (later the court room) was consecrated in his presence.

It was built as a place of hospitality for pilgrims journeying from continental Europe to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. Following the Dissolution in the 16th century, the Maison Dieu was subsequently used as a victualling yard supplying ships of the Royal Navy.

In the mid-19th Century, the prominent Victorian architect Ambrose Poynter (1796-1886) extensively restored the Maison Dieu aided by the up-and-coming Gothic Revival architect, William Burges. Burges later went on to further remodel the building and design an assembly hall (the Connaught Hall) and civic offices, including a range of bespoke furniture and interior schemes.

The Maison Dieu is the only civic commission by William Burges, and the only intact building in England still containing his decorative scheme, furniture, and fittings.

Posted on 02 March 2023

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